National Center for Education Statistics, Institute for Education Sciences
July 2007

Using a new classification system adopted in 2006 by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), analysts can now reliably compare data by locale across a variety of surveys (including the Common Core of Data, the Schools and Staffing Survey, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP]). The Institute for Education Sciences (IES) deployed this new classification system for the first time in this study, which examines how well schools in rural areas (defined by their distance from an urbanized area--in general, 5 miles or greater) compare with schools in cities, suburbs, and towns. The findings aren't eye-popping; most are predictable:

  • Though half of all school districts and a third of all public schools are classified as rural, just one-fifth of all k-12 students attend rural schools.
  • Though rural students perform better, in general, on NAEP than do students in cities, they don't do as well as those in suburbs.
  • A greater percentage of rural high school students graduate than do city students, while suburban students graduate at a higher rate than both.

That rural students' overall academic performance isn't higher may be surprising to those who believe that involved parents and satisfied teachers are the key to student academic achievement. The study found that rural parents are more likely to be involved in their children's schools and learning than in other locales, and that rural teachers are more satisfied with their jobs. (Involved parents are nice, but hardly necessary for students' success. As for teachers, competence and skill matter far more than how satisfied teachers are in their positions.) The report is less than scintillating, but it's a good first road test for the new classification system. Download it here.

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